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Julie Orringer's 'The Invisible Bridge'

May 26, 2010 |  7:30 am


Seven years ago, Julie Orringer published her first book, a well-received collection of short stories set in the present day called "How to Breathe Underwater." Ever since, she's been at work on an ambitious, and very different, novel. "The Invisible Bridge" is set in Hungary and Paris before and during World War II. Tim Rutten has our review:

If you're still looking for a "big" novel to carry into the summer holidays — one in which you can lose yourself without the guilty suspicion that you're slumming — then Julie Orringer's "The Invisible Bridge" is the book you want...

Her narrative is built around the relationship of Andras and Klara. He is the middle of three talented Hungarian Jewish brothers and an aspiring architect, forced by his increasingly anti-Semitic homeland's university quotas to pursue his education in 1930s Paris, where he meets and is influenced by Le Corbusier. It's there that he also encounters the mysterious Claire Morgenstern, also a Hungarian émigré whose name change from Klara Hasz is only one of the secrets she has been forced to keep. Klara, nine years Andras Lévi's senior, is a ballet instructor and choreographer and, while he is working as a set designer and decorator in her theater, they fall deeply in love.

In a strange twist of history, Hungarian Jews were protected from Hitler's final solution for much of the war. Orringer's novel moves inside that history, revealing how the nation's longstanding anti-Semitism is trumped by its nationalism, affecting the lives of Andras, Klara and their families. "Orringer's evocation of their suffering is remarkable and remarkably affecting, but so, too, is her re-creation of wartime Budapest --  including the cafes, newspaper offices, markets and the Sunday luncheon table," Rutten writes. "It is the persistence of their affection for one another, the sacrifices it engenders and its sustaining power in the face of incalculable cruelty, that elevates 'The Invisible Bridge' out of unendurable tragedy."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Budapest, built on both sides of the Danube, at sunrise in 2010. Credit: Gyula Czimbal / EPA

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